Student housing crisis ‘untenable’: report

Only four campus housing agencies in the whole of Sweden will be able to achieve their goal of finding students a place to live within 30 days for the 2011 autumn term, according to a report by Sweden's National Union of Students (Sveriges förenade studentkårer, SFS), presented on Monday.

Student housing crisis 'untenable': report
Students strolling on the Stockholm University campus

The union is now demanding that the government act so that more student accommodation can be built.

“We know that there is quite a large number of students today who are unable to find anywhere to live and end up sleeping on a friend’s couch, on an inflatable mattress or borrowing someone’s country cottage,” said Camilla Georgsson, chair of SFS, to The Local.

The report is a study of the situation for all Swedish students in university towns across the country.

It shows that, with a few exceptions, the situation for university students seeking digs in Sweden is pretty harsh.

The association calls the situation “untenable” and is now calling for more accommodation made available, adapted to both students’ needs and wallets.

But some areas are doing better than others. The recipe for success is a well-developed cooperation between local authorities, housing companies, universities and student unions, according to Georgsson.

She uses Trollhättan, in western Sweden, as an example of an area that has done well in trying to improve the housing situation for students.

“We see that those that have done the best are those that view students as an investment in the future. Generally the attitude is that the problem will ‘work itself out’ but we have seen that it doesn’t,” Georgsson said.

The union wants the government to intervene and ensure that more student housing will be built in the near future. Meanwhile, term is starting and many students will find themselves without guaranteed accommodation.

According to Georgsson, students must in the meantime be informed as to what their prospects of finding digs are.

“Today students have to plan ahead. They must be given information in advance about the housing situation at their university town of choice,” she said to The Local.

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Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)